March 18, 2011:
Bahrain, off the Saudi coast on world maps is now an arena for some of the Middle East’s most pivotal tensions: the heavyweight rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the regional fallout from Shiite anger. When Saudi troops and other Gulf forces moved into Bahrain this week, the conflict escalated and in the process becoming the most complex showdown of the Arab world’s Armageddon.
It is a bitter domestic duel between Sunni rulers and the majority Shiites and a crossroads for the Gulf’s big trio, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. The battle for Bahrain is no longer just on its shores. It’s now in Tehran, where the leader of Friday prayers cursed the “enemy” force that includes Saudi-led military reinforcements for Bahrain’s embattled Sunni monarchy. It’s in Iraq, with Shiites marching under banners pledging to join the fight in the Gulf kingdom.
Saudi Arabia roared into action, leading a 1,500-strong Gulf force to aid Bahrain’s reeling Sunni dynasty after more than a month of protests by Shiites seeking to break the royal family’s 200-year-old grip on power. It was the Gulf version of a rescue mission, believing that any more advances by protesters could threaten Sunni leaders around the region and allow Shiite power Iran to carve out a foothold on Saudi Arabia’s doorstep.
Iran denounced the military intervention and pulled back its ambassador to Bahrain. Iran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon also lobbed insults at Saudi Arabia, and Shiites in Iraq have staged a series of protest marches.
Security forces flew Bahrain’s red-and-white flag in the landmark Pearl Square in Manama after overrunning a protest camp. Military vehicles with Saudi markings have not been seen at main checkpoints, where forces wear black ski masks. But Shiite protesters claim to have heard the distinctive Saudi accent among security forces during clashes this week although Bahrain’s police and military include many Sunni Arabs from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere given citizenship to try to offset the Shiite population advantage.
Shortly after Saudi forces entered Bahrain, a crowd of Shiite Muslims gathered outside the main state hospital in a ragtag resistance force. They carried what they could find: scraps of wood, pipes, a butter knife. “Who will decide your future?” cried one protester. “Them or us?” Around the Middle East, Shiites and others are portraying Bahrain as under occupation by Saudi Arabia.
In Tehran, a senior Shiite Iranian cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, used his nationally broadcast Friday sermon to urge Bahrain’s Shiites to “resist against the enemy until you die or win.” Outside the prayers, protesters called Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa “a killer” and drew analogies to Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. One banner read: “death to the House of Saud.”
Bahrain on lashed out at Iran for “lobbying” on behalf of the Gulf kingdom’s Shiites, who represent about 70 per cent of Bahrain’s population. About 50 Shiite protesters gathered Thursday outside the Saudi Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, shouting “Get out of Bahrain” before a visit by the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.
In Baghdad, followers of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched under banners pledging to join fellow Shiites in Bahrain to fight the Saudi-led forces. Meanwhile, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, suspended teachings at Shiite religious schools across Iraq to show solidarity with Bahrain’s protesters.
“There are real massacres that are taking place in Bahrain,” Sheik Maitham al-Jamri, who claims he was a Bahraini Shiite cleric, told protesters in Baghdad’s Sadr City. “But if they cut us to pieces and burn us 70 times, we won’t stop our calls for change. If all communication means were blocked in Bahrain, the voices of the people in Iraq and Lebanon calling “No, no to injustice!’ can be heard loudly.”They felt that the ruling Sunni fraternity around the Gulf was vulnerable and it was time to act.”
Saudi’s King Abdullah gave no mention of the military force in Bahrain in a three-minute speech on Saudi television Friday before the announcement of a new bonanza of jobs, cash and housing in attempts to appease reformers calling for challenges of his autocratic regime.
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